August Wonders

Azalea indica ‘Formosa’ in bloom on August 22, 2017.

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A deeply pink blossom shone like a beacon in its sea of dusty August green.  What could that be?

I know that color; a color normally enjoyed in late April: Azalea indica ‘Formosa’.   But the Azaleas in our garden are old ones, planted years before the ‘Encore’ series of fall blooming  Azaleas was ever marketed.

I studied this beautiful flower, a wondrous anachronism, as I drew closer and saw that yes, it was blooming from an Azalea shrub.  In August…

August is filled with wonders. 

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August often melts into a reprieve of sorts.  Relentless heat and drought eventually give way to soaking rains, cooler nights; and a chance for new growth to replace the burnt and fallen leaves of high summer.   Each new leaf whispers a promise of renewal.

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Virginia Creeper

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After the rains begin, one morning we’ll find living fireworks sprung up nearly overnight from long forgotten bulbs.

The spider lily, or hurricane lily, has awakened for another year.  Their exuberance is a milestone along the long downward arc of days from Summer’s Solstice to Autumn’s Equinox.

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Hurricane Lily, Lycoris radiata

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The cast of characters in our garden shifts through the seasons.  The topography of things changes, too, as Cannas and Ficus and Rudbeckia gain height with each passing week.

The poke weed I cut out so ruthlessly in May finally won, and has grown into a 12′ forest in one corner of our garden.

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Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, proves an invasive native perennial loved by birds.

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Countless clusters of beautiful purple berries hang from its spreading branches, an invitation to the feast.  Small birds flit in and out of its shelter from dawn to dusk, singing their praises of summer’s bounty.

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After so many decades of gardening, one would think that I could have learned the twin disciplines of faith and patience by now.  It is a life long practice; perhaps never perfected. 

Time seems to slip past my muddy fingers each spring as I race to plant and prepare our garden for the season coming.  But nature bides her time, never fully revealing the bits of life she has nurtured through winter’s freezing nights; until she chooses to warm them back to life again.

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Mexican Petunia, Ruellia simplex

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At first I assumed it was a windborne weed, this bit of green growing up through the Oxalis in a humble clay pot by our back door.  I very nearly plucked it one day.  But something about its long narrow leaf was familiar, and echo of a memory of summers past.

And so I left it alone, keeping watch and feeding it, hoping it might be the newest incarnation of the marginally hardy Mexican Petunia.  My patience was rewarded this week with its first purple blossom.

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Hardy only to Zone 8, this Ruellia is one of the plants I search for in garden centers each spring.   And this spring I didn’t find one.  And the pot where I grew it on our deck last summer with Lantana and herbs showed no life by mid-May, and so I threw its contents on the compost.

But this pot by the door sat undisturbed, filled with growing  Oxalis and a bit of geranium.  And obviously, the dormant, but still living, Ruellia’s roots.  How often our plants live just below the surface, waiting for the right moment to show themselves, bursting  into new growth.

We somehow have to wrap our minds and memories around the full scope of our garden’s possibilities.

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Garlic chives spread themselves around the garden, blooming in unexpected places in late summer.

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Autumn is our second spring, here in coastal Virginia.  It is a fresh chance to plant and harvest, plan and prune and putter in the garden.

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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’ has renewed its growth with vibrant new leaves.

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We have ten or twelve weeks remaining, at least, before cold weather puts an end to it for another year.

As our season cools, we can spend more time outside without minding the heat and humidity of July and early August.

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Hardy Begonias have finally begun to bloom.

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We breathe deeply once again, and share the renewed joy of it all with the small creatures who share this space with us.

Late August is filled with wonders, teasing us out from the air conditioning of our indoor havens, back out into the magic waiting in the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

 

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High Water and Hurricane Lilies

September 3, 2016 014

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The storm, Hermine, still spins off the coast making her way, slowly and majestically, towards the northeast.  Now off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and back over open water, she gathers strength even as she loses speed.

Her winds are up, her pressure down, and she generously keeps sending rain showers our way.

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September 3, 2016 026

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The folks on-air at the Weather Channel obviously aren’t allowed to use the ‘H’ word anymore.  They call her a ‘Post-Tropical Cyclone.’  But we know the truth.  Her winds are back up to a sustained 70 mph and her pressure is down to 29.38 inches.  That sounds like a hurricane to me.

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The James River is well out of its banks here near Jamestown.

The James River is well out of its banks here near Jamestown.

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I’m thinking of loved ones on the ‘Eastern Shore’ of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.  They pretty much sit on a little peninsula out in the Atlantic Ocean, well out of site of the mainland.

It must feel very lonely out there when a hurricane is knocking at the door.  And this one brought an overnight bag; it may spin off their coast between now and Wednesday or Thursday!

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College Creek

College Creek

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We’re far enough inland to have benefited from the rain but not had problems caused by the winds.  Our streets, wet and covered with pine tags and fallen leaves, are blessedly clear.  The few branches we’ve cleared were all small enough to pick up and toss with one hand.

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September 3, 2016 022

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But the creeks and rivers have spilled out of their banks.  All the marshes and ditches filled and overflowing from the storm surge, reflect our low grey sky.  Flocks of birds gather and fly in great arcs above the wetlands.

They feel the change in the air, as do we, and have gathered to prepare for their autumn journeys.

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September 3, 2016 rain 003

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Our rain came last night, soon after dusk.  Quiet and gentle at first, we had to listen carefully to know it had begun.  It rained all night, giving life back to our desiccated  garden; and we awoke to a newly greened and wonderfully  wet world.

Plants which I thought were dried and finished plumped up and revived themselves overnight.

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September 3, 2016 010~

This slow, gentle rain has soaked in instead of running off.  The soil is soaking it in, channeling it down, down, to the reservoirs below.

There is nothing like a prolonged drought to remind us that water is the life’s blood of every living thing.  It is that magical, precious substance which animates and sustains us all.

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Alocasia 'Sarian' grows happily here in a pot filled with Coleus.

Alocasia ‘Sarian’ grows happily here in a pot filled with Coleus.

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The ‘Hurricane Lily,’ or ‘Spider Flower’ got its name when gardeners recognized that its bloom comes on only after a heavy late summer rain.  A long dry hot spell, followed by a heavy rain, such as a tropical storm might bring, triggers growth in this unusual bulb.

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September 2, 2016 hurricane lily 003

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Its flowers come first in late August or September.  Carried on tall bare stems, this flower is another of the lilies commonly knows as ‘Naked Ladies.’  Long, thin Liriope like leaves will emerge in several weeks, growing through autumn and into the winter.

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Even a damp and bedraggled Ginger Lily still smells sweetly.

Even a damp and bedraggled Ginger Lily still smells sweetly.

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My intense watering, these last few weeks, of the roses and Ginger Lilies growing near our bulbs triggered their early blooming.

They didn’t wait for the hurricane to pass before they bloomed.

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September 2, 2016 York River 001

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Now, if you want to order a few bulbs for yourself, please search for ‘Lycoris radiata,’ not ‘Naked Ladies,’ as a friend told me he recently did.  There are several lilies from bulbs which bloom either before or after their leaves appear, and so have earned this descriptive moniker.  My friend suggested that his returns on the search were more interesting than he expected.  And I promised to email a link to him for ordering some bulbs….

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September 2, 2016 hurricane lily 005

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We’ve now enjoyed 20 hours of nearly steady rain, with more to come.  The air smells fresh and the breeze is cool.

We are quite satisfied with Hermine’s brief visit.  And we wish her well and hope she moves on out to sea, sparing our neighbors to the north any ill effects from her passing.

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September 3, 2016 rain 001

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Mirror

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September 2, 2016 hurricane lily 007

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

 

 

Slipping Into September

August 29, 2016 Parkway 022

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For an area surrounded by rivers, marshes and creeks, you wouldn’t expect us to need rain so badly.  But we’ve not had even a sprinkle since August 9th, and less than 2″ of rain for the entire month of August.  Forgive me if I’m a little giddy that rain finally fills our weekend forecast, beginning sometime this evening!

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 011

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Never mind that it is a huge tropical system, which will soon cross Northern Florida before slipping up the East Coast, bringing with it all that a tropical system brings.  We watch the Weather Channel, wistfully waiting for those blobs of green on their radar to make their way to our garden.

Hermine is coming, and will bring us the gift of rain….

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The bald Cypress trees are already turning brown and will drop their needles soon. It has been unusually hot this summer, with very little relief from cloudy days or rain.

The bald Cypress trees are already turning brown and will drop their needles soon. It has been unusually hot this summer, with very little relief from cloudy days or afternoon rain.  This is the Chickahominy River at the Southwestern edge of James City County

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Waves of deja vu remind me of all the other Septembers which hold memories of approaching tropical systems.  Just as we’re all celebrating the last long weekend of summer and preparing for school to start the day after Labor Day; we’re also watching the storm clouds gather and making our storm preps.

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 006

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Early September finds us feeling a little anxious and expectant, a little off-balance maybe; as we know that our immediate future remains a bit uncertain.

Only survivors of storms past fully understand this feeling of mixed expectation and dread.  We’ve entered the heart of our Atlantic Hurricane season, school is about to start, and its election year to boot.... There’s enough heartburn for everyone!

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 012

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There were hurricanes and threats of hurricanes many years during the first month of school,  when I was still teaching  school in Tidewater.

Isabel hit on September 18, 2003, when we had been in school for less than 2 weeks.  I was still learning my new students’ names when we had an unplanned ‘vacation’ of more than a week while power was restored, flooding subsided, roads were cleared and repaired, and we slowly returned to our normal routines.

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 014

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It was a tough time on us all, but we managed.  And we grew a little savvier about what to expect from these tropical autumn storms.  Once you’ve experienced the storm and its aftermath once, you take care to stock water and batteries, to keep a little extra food on hand, and to watch the ever-changing forecast.  It’s smart to keep a charge on the cell phone and gas in the car, too!

I still flash back to Isabel whenever I eat a bagel.  I bought 2 dozen bagels early in the day when the storm hit, and we ate bagels and fresh oranges over the next several days while the power was out.

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August 29, 2016 Parkway 004

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But September, like April, brings dramatic and positive change to our garden.  Summer’s heat melts away into cool mornings and comfortable days, when one is happy to stay outside working well into the afternoon.

The sky turns a particular intense shade of blue.  Summer’s haze and humidity blow out to sea in the brisk September winds which bring us the first real hint of autumn.

There is rain.  The trees recover a bit of vitality.  Fall perennials and wildflowers blossom.  Huge pots of Chrysanthemums appear on neighbors’ porches.

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Sweet Autumn Clematis has begun to bloom this week, here near the parking area by the river.

Sweet Autumn Clematis has begun to bloom this week, here near the parking area by the river.

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And the best of summer lingers.  The ginger lilies bloom, filling the garden with their perfume.  More and more butterflies arrive.   We settle into a gentler, milder ‘Indian Summer’ which will linger, and ever so slowly transition into our bright, crisp autumn.

September reinvigorates us, too.  We bring fresh energy to the garden as we plant new shrubs, divide perennials, buy Daffodil bulbs and begin to plan ahead for winter.

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Spider lilies, also called "Hurricane lily" by some, reward my faithful watering with their buds this week.

Spider lilies, also called “Hurricane lily” by some, reward my faithful watering with their buds this week.  These Lycoris radiata come back each year from bulbs in late August and early September.

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Yes, it is September first; and we’re watching a potential hurricane, knowing it might start slipping up the coast, headed towards us and our loved ones within the next couple of days.  We trust that everyone will come through OK, once again.

And we’re also looking past the coming storms towards the rest of September stretching before us, full of beauty and promise.  We’re content to leave summer’s heat behind, and  slip into September once again.

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August 26, 2016 spider 009

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Photos 4, 5 and 6 for Cee’s Oddball Challenge

Woodland Gnome 2016

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August 29, 2016 Spider + Lily 008

Moving On

August 20, 2015 butterflies 006

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Summer is moving on towards its climax in our garden.  I found the garden filled with butterflies this morning when I came out to water.

The butterflies we’ve watched for since April are in residence now, and flutter constantly from flower to flower, shrub to shrub; as they drink their fill of warm, sweet nectar.

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August 20, 2015 butterflies 003

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I counted five individuals on a single Lantana this morning.  When I turned around, more fluttered behind me in another flower bed.  They surrounded me as I moved around the garden, watering.

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August 20, 2015 butterflies 011~

No longer timid, they continued feeding as I approached.  They no longer fly away when my camera beeps.

I can watch them from the window above my kitchen sink.  In fact, I would say that every window opens out onto views of butterflies moving on from one flower to another.  One may get lost in simply watching them; a voyeur of sorts, hypnotized by butterfly wings.

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August 20, 2015 butterflies 005~

Perhaps they are the ones entranced.  There is a rich buffet of flowers beckoning them to feed:  Lantana and Butterfly Bush, Rose of Sharon, mints and Sage, Echinacea, Zinnia, Monarda, Rudbeckia, Hibiscus.

The litany of sweet flowers goes on and on in the August garden.  Butterflies float from flower to flower almost like devotees fingering prayer beads.

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Lycoris radiata

Lycoris radiata

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Two new flowers have come into bloom this week, which signal our shift towards autumn. The Lycoris radiata never appear before mid-August; timed with the onset of our hurricane season.

The ginger lilies also begin their bloom towards the end of August, just as Labor Day draws close each year.

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White Butterfly Ginger Lily coming into bloom

White Butterfly Ginger Lily coming into bloom

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We have a crescendo of growth now, in this third week of August.  Cannas and ginger lily tower over our heads.  Colocasia leaves reach gigantic proportions in the shade.  Ferns grow tall and Begonia flowers emerge thick and vivid from their canes.

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August 18, 2015 vase 002~

This is the season where wishes materialize, beautifully fulfilled.  The garden crawls with life, never silent and never still.

Newborn blue tailed lizards skitter up the wall above the hose.  Cicadas whir and bump in the border.  Birds call to one another as wind rustles through the tall stems of lily and Canna.

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August 15, 2015 Gardens 011

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And butterflies float by silently, above it all, moving on in search of the next nectar filled flower in their never ending quest for summer’s sweetness.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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Morning Glory

Morning Glory

Fantasy and Reality

This old Rosemary has fully recovered now from last winter's cold.  It grows here with volunteer Black Eyed Susans.

This old Rosemary has fully recovered now from last winter’s cold. It grows in the front border with volunteer Black Eyed Susans.

 

Autumn is a time to come to terms with both the fantasy and the reality of gardening.

We fantasize about the beautiful garden we can create.  We intend to grow delicious fruits and healthy vegetables.  We see visions of beauty in areas of bareness, and imagine the great shrub which can grow from our tiny potted start.

I’ve come to understand that gardeners, like me, are buoyed on season to season and year to year by our fantasies of beauty.

Surprise lilies poke up through the fading foliage of peonies and St. John's Wort.

Surprise lilies poke up through the fading foliage of peonies and St. John’s Wort.

 

I spend many hours pouring through plant catalogs and gardening books; especially in February.

And I spend days, sometimes, making lists of plants to acquire, shopping for them, and making sketches of where they will grow.

As far as fantasies go, I suppose that dreaming up gardens rates as a fairly harmless one.  Expensive sometimes, but harmless in the grand scheme of things.

 

One of our few remaining  Coleus plants not yet destroyed by the squirrels, growing here with perennial Ageratum.

One of our few remaining Coleus plants not yet destroyed by the squirrels, growing here with perennial Ageratum and Lantana.

 

But there are times for planning and imagining; and there are times for dealing with the realities a growing garden presents.

I spent time bumping up against the realities, this morning, as I worked around the property; preparing for the cold front blowing in from the west.

 

Lantana, the toughest of the tough in our garden, grows more intense as nights grow colder.  This one is not about 7' high.

Lantana, the toughest of the tough in our garden, grows more intense as nights grow colder. This one is now about 7′ high.

 

I spent the first hour walking around with a pack of Double Mint chewing gum dealing with the vole tunnels.  This is our new favorite way to limit the damage the ever-present voles can do.

Recent rain left the ground soft.  My partner spent several hours and three packs of gum feeding the little fellas on Tuesday.  So the damage I found today was much reduced, and I only used a pack and a  half.  Much of the tunneling was in the lawns, but I also found it around some of the roses.

 

Colocasia have grown wonderfully this season.  This one has sent out many runners and new plants.  I need to dig some of these soon to bring them in, since they aren't rooted deeply like the adults.

Colocasia have grown wonderfully this season. This one has sent out many runners and new plants. I need to dig some of these soon to bring them in, since they aren’t rooted deeply like the adults.

 

Another hour was invested in deadheading, cutting away insect damage on the Cannas, pulling grasses out of beds and digging up weeds.

I wandered about noticing which plants have grown extremely well this year, and which never really fulfilled my expectations.

As well as our Colocasias and Cannas have done, the little “Silver Lyre”  figs planted a year ago remain a disappointment.

 

Ficus, "Silver Lyre" has grown barely taller than the neighboring Sage.  Maybe it will take off next year....

Ficus, “Silver Lyre” has grown barely taller than the neighboring Sage. Maybe it will take off next year….

 

Sold as a fast growing variety, these barely reach my knees.   Between heavy clay soil which obviously needed more amendment and effort on my part at planting, and our very cold winter; they have gotten off to a very slow start.

I hope that they will catch up next year and eventually fulfill their potential as large, beautiful shrubs.

 

October 1, 2014 garden 011

I admired the beautiful Caladiums, and procrastinated yet again on digging them to bring them inside.  Maybe tomorrow….

Even knowing the weather forecast, I don’t want to accept that cold weather is so close at hand.  I am reluctant to disturb plantings which are still beautiful.

Begonia, "Sophie" came in today, and will likely stay inside now.  Started from a small cutting, this lovely plant has grown all in one season.

Begonia, “Sophie” came in today, and will likely stay inside now. Started from a small cutting, this lovely plant has grown all in one season.

 

I did begin bringing in Begonias today.  And, I’m starting to make decisions about which plants can’t be brought inside.

Space is limited, and my collection of tender plants expands each year.

 

Another of the re-blooming iris decided to give us a last stalk of flowers this week.

Another of the re-blooming Iris decided to give us a last stalk of flowers this week.  Their fragrance is simply intoxicating.

 

Each season brings its own challenges.  There are the difficult conditions brought by heat and cold, too much rain and drought.

Then there are the challenges brought on by the rhythms of our lives.

 

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I’ve been away from the garden a great deal this spring and summer.  And when I’ve been home, I’ve often been too tired to do the tasks which have other years become routine.

 

This series of borders has gotten "hit or miss" attention this summer.  These sturdy daisies have kept going in spite of my neglect.

This series of borders has gotten “hit or miss” attention this summer. These sturdy daisies have kept going in spite of my neglect.

 

What I was doing with loved ones was far more important than trimming, weeding and fertilizing in the garden.

And my partner has helped a great deal with the watering this year.  But the neglect shows. 

I am surveying the reality of which plants were strong and soldiered on without much coddling; and which didn’t make it.

I pulled the dead skeletons of some of them today.

 

Pineapple Sage reliably fills the garden with beauty at the end of the season.  Here it is just coming into bloom as we greet October.

Pineapple Sage reliably fills the garden with beauty at the end of the season. Here it is just coming into bloom as we greet October.

 

This is a garden which forces one to face the facts of life… and death.  It is probably a good garden for me to work during this decade of my life.

At times effort brings its own rewards.  Other times, effort gets rewarded with naked stems and the stubble of chewed leaves.

 

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It forces one to push past the fantasies which can’t make room for disappointment and difficulties; for evolution and hard-won success.

 

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is.  These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer.  Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

Beauty berry grows like the native (weed?) it is. These self-seed around the garden, and never suffer from hungry deer. Our birds take great delight in the berries as they ripen.

 

The wise tell us that all of the suffering in our lives results from our attachments.

That may be true.  And yet, I find joy even in this autumnal mood of putting the garden to bed for the season.

Autumn "Brilliance" fern remains throughout the winter.  Tough and dependable, they fill areas where little else can survive.

Autumn “Brilliance” fern remains throughout the winter. Tough and dependable, they fill areas where little else can survive.

 

Even as I plan for the coming frost, and accept that plants blooming today soon will wither in the cold; I find joy in the beauty which still fills the garden.

I am deeply contented with how I have grown in understanding and skill, while gardening here,  even as my garden has grown in leaf and stalk.

 

October 1, 2014 garden 012

And I am filled with anticipation for how the garden will grow and evolve in the year to come.

It is a work in progress, as are we all. 

 

Fuchsia "Marinka"

Fuchsia “Marinka”

 

While fantasies may lead us onwards and motivate us to make fresh efforts each day; so reality is a true teacher and guide.

Our challenge remains to see things just as they are.  To be honest with ourselves, learn from our experience, and find strength to make fresh beginnings as often as necessary as we cultivate the garden of our lives.

 

October 1, 2014 garden 025

 

Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

October 1, 2014 garden 001

 

 

Lycoris, Surprise!

August 13, 2014 Lycoris 002

 

Surprise!  Late summer lilies, like this Lycoris radiata, just pop up from the border and bloom some random day in August or September, usually after a rain.

And a welcome surprise, at that, to spice up a summer weary border.  Like any bulb, they are long lived, and will multiply over time.

There was a single  Lycoris here to greet us our first autumn in this garden.

The bright red, spidery blossoms  made us smile, and promised more pleasant surprises to come , over the coming year.

Daffodils, Peonies, Hyacinth, and Asian Magnolias each made their appearance in their season.  Our hearts warmed to former owners of the garden who planted such beauty.

If you want to plant Surprise lilies in your own garden, Easy To Grow Bulbs is a reliable source for a variety of large, healthy bulbs.

Because Easy To Grow Bulbs offers a discount for ordering larger quantities, I found friends who wanted Lycoris for their own gardens, and split a large order of bulbs.

Now several of us grow Surprise Lilies, and enjoy seeing whose pop out first.

 

August 13, 2014 Lycoris 001

Grow Lycoris in a sunny area for best growth and flowering.  They like  moist soil, especially when they bloom.

Here is another reliably deer-safe flowering plant. 

Many lilies end up as “deer candy” before they can even open.  These beautiful lilies have never been munched by deer in our garden.

They make good cut flowers to bring inside, so you might want to grow extra for cutting.

But please  make sure to leave some out in the border for the hummingbirds, who love them so much!

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Watching For Red

Green On Green On Green

Muscadine grape vines, grown from last summer's seeds, twine through thyme and chives.

Muscadine grape vines, grown from last summer’s seeds, twine through thyme and chives.

 

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Now in the heart of August, the heart of summer,

the world glows  Green on green on green.

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Rose scented Geranium

Rose scented Geranium

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We are wrapped in every green imaginable;

moist, vibrant, healing in every shade and hue.

Winter’s white, browns and grey have melted into green lushness.

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Redbud leaves

Redbud leaves

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Every branch and stem obscured by verdant leaves,

The Earth opened

and clothed herself in emerald herbs and grasses,

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Scented Geranium

Scented Geranium

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Moss and vine;  fern and shrub .

The air shimmers with it,

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Beautyberry

Beautyberry

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The warm air fragrant with perfume of mown sweetgrass

and sun soaked leaves.

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August 7, 2014 garden 018

 

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We feast on greenness,

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August 7, 2014 garden 011

 

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Seeing it, smelling it, tasting it, hearing the rustle of leaves

on summer breezes;

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August 3, 2014 butterflies 111

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Filling ourselves with living greenness

As the year cycles onward yet again.

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A rose among Ginger Lily

A rose among Ginger Lily

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.

As a man changes his own nature,

so does the attitude of the world change towards him.

We need not wait to see what others do.”  

 

Mahatma Ghandi

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Global Meditation for Peace today

at noon, your own local time.

 

August 7, 2014 garden 040

Rain and Remnants

One of our hawks waits on his new "viewing platform" in our oaks, watching for his next meal.

One of our hawks waits on his new “viewing platform” in our oaks, watching for his next meal.

Finally rain.  Today we are blessed with the remnants of a tropical storm from the Gulf which reformed off of the Carolinas, and is slowly making its way north as a nor’easter. October 10 2013 garden 002 We can almost hear the plants slurping up the wonderfully cool rain.  Monday afternoon’s rain was the first real soaking we’ve had since sometime in August, and things were getting very dry in the garden.  You know it’s dry when trees begin to look thirsty.  We’ve had a lot of leaves simply turning brown and falling.   The wind on Monday covered some streets with crispy brown pine needles.  Our driveway was covered in brown and yellow Tulip Poplar leaves when we pulled in Monday afternoon.

The reblooming iris love the rain.  This is the second bloom in the last week from this brave plant giving a little more beauty before the frost.

The reblooming iris love the rain. This is the second bloom in the last week from this brave plant giving a little more beauty before the frost.

So a cold front, and a nor’easter with copious rain, is breathing some life back into the garden here.  I’m hoping that more Lycoris will pop up.  Some friends and I ordered quite a few Lycoris radiata bulbs together last fall.  But so far only one of the new ones has surfaced; and that only after I watered its bed copiously to revive some transplants.

This morning we began the day by moving small pots back under the eaves, emptying plant saucers, and making sure the waiting flats of Violas are protected.  When the rain passes the ground will be wet and welcoming, and we can finally plant them out in their beds.

 "Rosalie Figge", another reblooming iris sharing its fall display

“Rosalie Figge”, another reblooming iris sharing its fall display

The storm is still working its way north.  The heaviest of the rain and wind will come later today and overnight.  A Nor’easter is like a little hurricane.  The wind speeds are lower, and it usually comes after hurricane season has passed.  We’re still in the season here for a few more weeks, but the cold front ahead of this storm should keep the lid on it.  The rain can be just as heavy, though, and tidal flooding is sometimes even worse.  We’ve already heard that streets are flooding and roads washing out in communities closer to the ocean.  When nor’easters travel slowly, or worse, simply sit and churn off of the coast; their effects are lasting and expensive.

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A white rose simply sparkles on a grey wet day.

Begonia Rex still blooming happily, even as the seasons shift.

Begonia Rex still blooming happily, even as the seasons shift.

But we are inland, and are enjoying the grey day and the rain.  After temperatures this time last week near 90, we have the heat on in the house today.  It is another reminder of the passing seasons.  A reminder to prepare for the cold soon to come.  A wake-up call to bring the potted things in, take cuttings, finish planting bulbs, and to enjoy the garden fully before the last remnants fade in the first frosty mornings.

All photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Surprise!

Lycoris radiata, in its first season of bloom in our garden.

Lycoris radiata, in its first season of bloom in our garden.

The surprise spider lily, Lycoris radiata, is one of the beautiful surprises of autumn.  This lovely red lily appears quite suddenly, usually after a heavy rain.  In the southeastern United States is has earned the name, “Hurricane Lily” because it so often appears right after the heavy rains of a hurricane.  It is always a happy surprise to see its beautiful blossoms pop up out of the Earth.

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This sterile bulb, native to Asia, has an interesting growth pattern.   It blooms in late August or September, over several days.

 

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The bulbs divide and produce multiple bloom stalks over the years.  These bulbs don’t like to be disturbed once planted.  The flower is a surprise, partly because no foliage appears before the bloom.  After the flowers fade, the long, strap like leaves begin to appear; hanging around throughout the winter, and making food for the following season’s blooms.  The blooms and leaves rarely appear at the same time.

Although Lycoris radiata is native  to China, it has also been widely grown in Japan for centuries.

The first  bulbs came to the United States sometime in the 1850s.  Early sailors who visited Japan after it opened for trade with the United States brought them back and introduced them into American gardens.  Many sources credit Captain William Roberts with being the first to introduce Lycoris to North America.  Interested in botany, he is said to have brought home three Lycoris bulbs from his trip.   His wife, Lavinia, was an avid gardener with hundreds of roses in her garden, and they likely were a gift for her.  His personal diary, a transcript of which is in the archives at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC, indicates that Captain Roberts may not have traveled to Japan until several years after the date given in most sources for his trip.

Most current cultivars of Lycoris radiata are hardy in zones 6-9.  Other Lycoris species and hybrids are hardy as far north as zone 4.  More complete information is available from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC, which carries an extensive inventory of Lycoris bulbs.  Bulbs are also available from Easy To Grow Bulbs.

 

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Lycoris should be planted in good soil, in a location with full to part sun, about 8” deep, and at least 6” apart.  Like daffodils, once planted, they can be expected to come back year after year.  Also like daffodils, Lycoris are extremely poisonous.  Deer, voles, rabbits, squirrels, and other hungry creatures leave them strictly alone.  This is another good plant for patches of sun in a forest garden, because they won’t be destroyed by the wildlife.  Although the plant is poisonous, Lycoris nectar is still an important late season food for nectar loving insects.

Lycoris  bloom most often after a heavy rain.  In a dry autumn, they may bloom late, or not at all.   Moist soil is important for good growth. Their unpredictability is part of their beauty.

 

This clump of Surprise Lily was already growing in the garden when we moved in.  It surprised and delighted us when it suddenly appeared that September, and continues to bring a smile each year it blooms.

This clump of Surprise Lily was already growing in the garden when we moved in. It surprised and delighted us when it suddenly appeared that September, and continues to bring a smile each year it blooms.

 

In fact, in Japan, they are planted around homes and rice paddies to keep mice away.  They are an important flower in Japan.  Not only do they signal the beginning of autumn, but they are important in family life.  Lycoris bulbs are often planted on the graves of loved ones as a sign of respect and love.  Lycoris features in several traditional folk tales based on the fact that the flowers and leaves are never present at the same time.  Although Lycoris are long lasting cut flowers, they are rarely used as cut flowers in Asia due to their association with death and separation.

Although Lycoris radiata are red, other Lycoris species and cultivars come in white, yellow, pink, orange, and light lavender.  All are hardy, easy to grow plants, which bring surprise and delight to an autumn day.

( Much appreciation to Perry Mathewes for giving additional information on Captain William Roberts, based on his reading of the transcript of Captain Roberts’s diary while he was curator of the gardens at Tryon Palace.)

All photos by Woodland Gnome

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